Cristiano Ronaldo’s brace helped Manchester United to a 3-1 victory against 10-man Tottenham in an entertaining FA Cup fourth round tie at Old Trafford on Sunday. With Manchester City bidding farewell after losing 2-1 to Sheffield United, six Premier League teams (a record low) remain among the 16 that go into the fifth-round draw.
The game was open and freedom of expression was encouraged for both teams. As early as the 4th minute, Ryan Giggs provided an excellent pass to Rooney who hit the side-netting. With a quarter of an hour gone, Tottenham replied and Rooney had to clear off the line after Aaron Lennon’s corner picked out an unmarked Berbatov on the edge of the box.
Tottenham, without a win at Old Trafford since 1989, surprised Manchester United in the 24th minute when winger Aaron Lennon’s low cross was turned in from point-blank range by Keane. That is Kenae’s 18th goal of the season and his fourth in four matches.
Despite their possession, Man United’s forward game was until then best described as toothless but they persisted in piling more pressure on Spurs defense. It was frustrating for the Red Devils when Cerny did well to tip a fierce Giggs strike over the bar from Michael Carrick’s clever pass. They finally broke the duck in the 38th minute through Carlos Tevez.
However, Tottenham were in an adventurous mood and not playing for a draw. Jermaine Jenas could have restored Tottenham’s advantage in added time at the end of the first-half after a sublime through ball by Steed Malbranque. Spurs had another great chance just after the restart but Lennon’s cross flew onto the roof of the net with Keane unmarked at the far post. Jamie O’Hara then bent a free-kick inches wide of the posts.
Paul Scholes was then brought on for his first appearance since suffering a knee injury in October. The turning point for Man United came in the 70th minute. A free kick by goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar was handled by Michael Dawson when Rooney was about to shoot. Dawson was immediately handed a red card and Ronaldo made no mistake from the spot.
Tottenham nearly leveled the score with six minutes left but Berbatov saw his shot come back off the post. Ronaldo put the game beyond Spurs two minutes from time, with a low shot that deflected in off Malbranque.
“It was a fantastic Cup tie, end to end and open,” United manager Alex Ferguson told Sky Sports. “I think we edged it in possession but Tottenham had the best chances but didn’t take them and I’m pleased to be in the next round, it’s a relief.”
Assistant Spurs manager Gus Poyet also rued the missed opportunities. “We had to score the second and not try to hold on,” he said. “Unfortunately we couldn’t and they equalised but even then we had a great chance before they scored the second.”
Man United, FA Cup winners for a record 11 times, are in the fifth round and on course to re-live their treble dream. This is a glowing testament to Ronaldo’s remarkable season. I have to say that his achievement today is more than just aptitude alone. Ferguson has revealed publicly that the Portuguese spent hours after training to hone his skills. Practice makes perfect - for professionals and amateurs alike.
The efforts have paid off with his improved range of passing, timing, positioning and accuracy. The lad has now scored 25 goals and it is only January. His transformation from a dazzling dribbler to a devastating finisher is frightening and more than justifies the 100 million pounds price tag Real Madrid has targeted to lure him over.
At the moment, I doubt if he is in a hurry to move to Spain because of a previous feud with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Real Madrid’s current style of play does not suit him but there is an outside chance if the top honors at the major awards still elude him.
As for Tottenham, their defensive frailties let them down once again. They will enjoy a more respectable position in the Premier League if it is decided by goals scored alone. Spurs have the third best scoring record in the league; in 23 matches, they have notched 44 goals, just two behind free-scoring Manchester United and Arsenal.
Against Spurs deadly front line and creative midfield, lesser opponents will struggle to stop their march to the FA Cup Finals, but this is after all Manchester United, a team featuring Scholes, Rooney, Tevez and Ronaldo who are masters at unpicking the tightest of defenses.
Yes, the defense, if only the same praise can be heaped on the jokers. Spurs have conceded 40 goals in the Premier League, marginally better than Reading, Fulham, Sunderland and Derby County. This leaky defense is certainly not championship quality but to be fair, injuries and suspensions have taken their toil.
Huddlestone was the weakest link but Ramos should take part of the blame as the player is a midfielder who was converted into a makeshift center-back after Ledley King was sidelined. Dawson was another culprit as his misreading of the game and subsequent dismissal turned the tide in favor of the Red Devils.
Overall, it was a good fight, Manchester United could have slipped on a banana skin and it will have capped a wonderful week for Ramos as he defeated two of the best teams in the Premier League in quick succession.
I do hope that Tottenham retain the partnership of Berbatov and Keane. Especially the latter as he can conjure goals from half-chances and his scintillating form has shown no signs of abating. Let’s see if Ramos can work some magic at the back and establish a pair of defensive bedrocks too.
The impending arrival of injury-prone Johnathan Woodgate is interesting, a blessing or a curse, I can’t say for now but with the current lot, it will be hard to do much worse.